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2020 FBI Data Obtained by Everytown Shows Background Checks Stopped Over 300,000 Illegal Gun Sales — A Record High, Nearly Double 2019 Numbers


Data Obtained from a FOIA Request by Everytown Proves that the Background Check System Works, Blocking Over Four Million Illegal Gun Sales from Prohibited Purchasers like Convicted Felons Since 1994

NEW YORK – According to FBI data obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests made by Everytown for Gun Safety, the background check system blocked over 300,000 illegal firearm sales in 2020 — 42% of those to people with felony convictions. This represents the highest number of annual denials ever and almost double the nearly 169,000 denials reported by the FBI in 2019. To date, the background check system has now blocked over 4 million illegal firearm sales since 1994.

This new data, which includes both denials from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) as well as for states that conduct point-of-contact sales such as California or Florida, shows that the surge in firearm sales in 2020 was also accompanied with a surge of prohibited purchasers trying to buy guns: the denial rate in 2020 was 31% higher than the denial rate in 2019. Per the FBI response letters accompanying the data, these numbers likely represent an undercount due to incomplete data received by the FBI from states. 

“This new data yet again underscores the need for the Senate to strengthen federal background check laws or else people who shouldn’t have guns will continue to exploit deadly loopholes” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, Everytown’s Director of Research. “There’s no question that background checks work, but the system is working overtime to prevent a record number of people with dangerous prohibitors from being able to buy firearms. The loopholes in the law allow people to avoid the system, even if they just meet online or at a gun show for the first time. Bipartisan action in Congress to strengthen background checks would keep even more guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

“The news that background checks stopped a record number of gun sales raises a troubling question: How many of the people who were blocked by a background check took advantage of the giant gaps in our current laws and bought a gun from a stranger they met online or at a gun show?” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “It’s time for the Senate to put public safety first, and put an end to the deadly loopholes that make it easy for people with dangerous histories to get armed.”

“This data makes two things crystal clear: background checks keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, and our elected officials should be racing to close loopholes that currently allow anyone to go and buy a gun from an unlicensed seller,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “It’s what more than 90 percent of Americans want, and it will save lives.”

While federal law requires background checks for all gun sales by licensed gun dealers, it does not require background checks for the people who buy guns from unlicensed dealers, even in instances when they are strangers who meet online or at gun shows. Further, the surge in gun sales is overwhelming the background check system, making it easier for prohibited purchasers to obtain a firearm through the deadly Charleston loophole, a gap in federal law that allows gun sales to proceed if a background check hasn’t been completed in three days. 

The time for the Senate to act is right now. Ninety-three percent of Americans, including 89 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of gun owners support background checks, and there’s a good reason why: background checks save lives. In addition to being associated with lower rates of gun trafficking, states that require background checks for all gun sales are associated with 10 percent lower homicide rates, as well as lower rates of firearm suicide.